WHITMAN, MASS. (WHDH) - Loved ones are mourning the tragic deaths of four family members from Massachusetts who were killed in a chain-reaction crash near Walt Disney World while vacationing during February school break.
Julie Smith, 41, her 5-year-old daughter, Scarlett, both of Whitman, and her 76-year-old mother, Josephine Fay, of South Weymouth, succumbed to their injuries after a truck rear-ended their rental van on State Road 429 in Kissimmee, Florida on Tuesday evening, causing it to roll over right when traffic was starting to slow down, according to Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Kim Montes.
Smith’s 11-year-old son, Jaxon, was found unresponsive and later died at Arnold Palmer Hospital.
“We don’t know why this truck didn’t stop yet but clearly that truck is at fault for rear-ending the van and we just got to sort everything else out,” Montes said.
A total of eight family members from Massachusetts were inside the rental van at the time of the crash. The 5-year-old girl’s twin sister, her 10-year-old sister, her father and her grandfather survived.
“We have our victim advocate and other social workers over at the hospital helping this group of people get the help that they need and then also relay the bad news to them,” Montes explained.
“It’s a reminder for drivers: traffic can stop suddenly,” Montes added.
Whitman school officials say grief counselors will be made available for students and staff of the Whitman-Hanson community.
“This is a tragedy, and I believe I express the sentiments of all families, students and employees of the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District in saying that we mourn together during this incredibly difficult time,” Superintendent Jeffrey Szymaniak said. “I encourage all families to have honest and open conversations with their children. We have activated all the resources at our disposal, and we will come together as a community to support each other and support our students who have suffered this terrible loss.”
Daycare manager Darlene Staples looked after all four siblings who were in the van, including the 5-year-old twins who were enrolled at the Merry Deb Child Care & Learning Center in Whitman.
“Our hearts are absolutely broken,” she said. “We’re just trying to get through today. I’ve never in my life, in all the years I’ve done this, ever had to deal with anything like this.”
Fay worked as an instructor in early childhood education at Quincy Collge and left behind a lasting legacy.
“I thought about how her spirit was always part of this place and how much joy and how much love she gave to all the faculty here,” English professor Steve Dooner said.
Dooner knew the Fays from their time living in Weymouth.
“They were remarkable people. They worked hard to keep their parish alive at St. Albert’s. They were people who were devout people of faith.”
Smith worked as an investment trader for Liberty Mutual and the company said they are deeply saddened by the loss.
“Julie was a cherished employee and greatly touched the lives of all her colleagues. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Julie’s family and friends during this incredibly difficult time,” the firm said in a statement.
In a statement, the family of the victims thanked the public for their outpouring of support in the wake of the tragedy.
“We are truly heartbroken. Among the many individuals, groups, and organizations who have assisted during this difficult time, we wanted to highlight the efforts of the first responders in Orlando, the medical staff at the Orlando Regional Medical Center and the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital, Disney, JetBlue, TSA, and the Massachusetts State Police. We also want to thank the Hartman Family who assisted in Orlando. We continue to grieve for the loss of our loved ones. Thank you for your outpouring of kindness,” the statement read.
Whitman Youth Soccer is holding a candlelight prayer service for the family Friday at 7 p.m. at the Whitman Middle School soccer field.
The 26-year-old driver of the pickup truck accused of causing the chain-reaction crash voluntarily gave his blood work to investigators, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. They added that they will also be looking at his phone records to see if he was texting or distracted.
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